Reviews in this issue:
Andromeda Anarchia - Darkmatters
For women who write and produce music like Andromeda Anarchia, it always seems to me that they are disadvantaged from the start. This is because they will always be compared to Kate Bush or Tori Amos. These two women have set the standard so high, that some listeners will never give new artists, like Andromeda, the chance of being heard. This is a crying shame, as Darkmatters contains so much for the listener to absorb and enjoy than these two references.
Andromeda hails from Switzerland and this EP is her first solo release. She is already making a name for herself on the music scene, collaborating with artists and genres ranging from jazz, rock, classical guitar and through to black metal, which demonstrates her vast versatility. She is addicted to the sound of the electric bass, and has a close working relationship with extraordinary French bass player Laurent David who contributes bass on Darkmatters. Please be warned, due to this obsession with the bass, if you obtain this release, put it into you sound system with the volume and bass setting on high, then you may blow your windows out. The bass is mixed very high, and as a bass player myself this is a definite positive.
My admiration grew for Andromeda when reading the album bio, where she admits to having written the album while suffering from an episode of Bipolar Disorder. This used to be known as manic depression, and it is thanks to people like Andromeda, who speak openly about this affliction, that people like myself, who have suffered from mental illness for long periods, are at last receiving a degree of acceptance and understanding within society.
After multiple listens, it begins to become obvious that apart from listening to a piece of art, we are listening to Andromeda's cathartic exorcism of her psychological demons. A common phrase is “suffering for one's art”; this is an example of a very personal suffering being turned into art. For this I must convey my greatest praise for what Andromeda has presented here.
So, what have we got? Well, don't expect a relaxing experience. This is, at times, a disturbing ride through one individual's troubled psyche. The ever-changing musical landscape on offer is at times gentile and meditative, the next a cacophony of psychological angst and pain. Andromeda's voice is multi-faceted; at times seductive, at times screaming with despair and then a crooning chanteuse. As a listener I was drawn in to this young woman's traumatic ordeal. At times the despair is so audibly real, you want to reach out to help and offer a reassuring hand or shoulder to cry on. To get so much emotion and feeling onto a piece of music is truly astonishing.
Helping Andromeda in delivering this mini-epic are drummer Olaf Ryter, Malcolm Braff on piano, the aforementioned bass playing of Laurent David and finally producer and sound designer Patrik Schwitter. Without these four guys the disc would not be as good as it is. Partly due to their musical prowess, but more I feel, with their understanding of what Andromeda was wanting to present. Laurent David's bass playing throughout is simply stunning. His tone ranges from a Jaco Pastorius jazz sound, through the deep solid pounding bass which holds everything together, to the at times just plain down and dirty. I would recommend this disc to any bass player, or someone who appreciates the artistry of a great bassist.
You are probably wondering, this is all fine, but is it prog. Well, for anyone who considers testing musical boundaries ranging from jazz, through a PJ Harvey indie sound, to extreme metal with a touch of almost everything in between, then yes, this is the most prog album I have listened to for quite some time.
I have listened to bands in the past which have tried something similar, but have missed the mark by a long way, as their output can sound, at times, incoherent. But with Darkmatters, each passage of music, each word, each note, does not feel out of place. What adds to this recording the most, is the honest way it has been presented. If you want to challenge yourself, then I can not recommend this release highly enough.
Cause 17 - Bricks And Bones
Cause 17 is Walter Hüsstege's idea that became a project after joining forces with Rick Hagenaars, who helped him with all the lyrics at the beginning. Due to a Greek friend, they found a singer in that country and they released their first album called User Busy. In 2016 they managed to release their second effort, an EP entitled For No One In Particular and now they are back with an ambitious project in the form of a progressive rock opera that tells the story of a boy and a girl who met on the internet and decided to jump off/into a Fjord.
I must say that I was curious after reading this plot on their Facebook page. Somehow I was thinking about other similar real stories that inspired great albums, even though they were really sad stories such as Brave from Marillion, Hand. Cannot. Erase. from Steven Wilson. Well, Bricks and Bones is not that good because those are masterpieces in my opinion, but Cause 17 delivers quite a good album that makes the listener stay put until the story ends.
Musically the band knows how to play the game, and from the first song they introduce you to this sad story using an instigating guitar riff. Then the keys appear and you know something is about to happen. And it happens. During the album the two characters are presented by the narrator, played by Eric Koch, and each of them plays the role well; Ignatious Kaloudis for the boy and Ria Mulder for the girl.
I must say the feeling they put into their vocal parts fits perfectly with what they are singing. The music is also expressive as you can find softer songs mixed with heavier parts that make the listener understand the situation. Even in the last but one song, entirely instrumental, called The Dive one can imagine the young couple jumping. I don´t know if it is because of the tempo, the synthesisers, keyboards or maybe because you know it is the end of the story. Bricks And Bones - Reprise closes the album and gets you thinking about the story.
I have to say I enjoyed the album more after a few listens and of course you'll need to find the proper time, because it has to be listened from start to finish. I encourage progressive rock fans to listen to this emotional album even though the mixing and production is not as top levels as the likes of Marillion and Steven Wilson can afford. Apparently it wasn't easy for the band to record the album, so let's see if Cause 17 can find another interesting and intriguing story for their next album. It'd be great to see what they can offer.
The Contortionist - Our Bones
Our Bones is the fifth EP from The Contortionist, accompanying their four full-length studio albums. The band have slowly evolved from a technical/prog metal band, to more of a modern progressive band with elements of ambient, metal and djent. The six-piece have built quite a reputation for being a solid, consistent studio band and a formidable live presence.
The band's last studio effort, Clairvoyant, was well received among prog circles and more mainstream outlets alike. The band had moved towards a more melodic and experimental sound that had started with their third full length, Language, back in 2014, when they moved away from a more metal approach. This new collection of three original songs and one cover is pretty much what you'd expect as a short stop-gap between albums.
Opener Follow is a great start. It features a driving riff and some great melodic vocals as we've come to expect from frontman Michael Lessard. It also features some heavier vocals which fit into the song perfectly and bring back memories of earlier Contortionist material.
Early Grave is the single, and while it's not a bad song, it's certainly not as structurally interesting as the opener, as it falls a little flat when it comes to ideas. It feels more like this one should have been a B-side or a bonus track rather than the band's latest single. The chorus is reasonably memorable but compared to much of the material on either of their last two studio albums, it's just not as strong.
All Grey is a short but interesting ambient piece, featuring some synth and piano accompanying Michael's stellar vocals. If anything I wish this one had gone on much, much longer. It's a beautiful little piece all the same.
Finally, The Contortionist's cover of The Smashing Pumpkins classic 1979 is actually brilliant. I'm a big fan of covers when they are done well, and while they play it safe, sticking to the original song pretty closely, they do an absolutely great job of making the song their own. The mix and production of this EP are also very good, but that mix shines mostly on this final track. The layers of clean guitars and vocals just sound incredible here.
So all-in-all there is not that much new here, nothing that current fans won't expect and nothing much that will attract new ones either, but it's certainly not bad and this should at least serve as an appertiser for fans until they release their next full-length.
The Hallucinant Telepherique - Comes To Mind
Despite sounding slightly French, The Hallucinant Telepherique are in fact the Montoya brothers, who originally hail from Peru but are currently residing in Texas. Sergio is a man who does everything, playing drums, bass, keyboards, guitars and adding his voice where warranted, although not in a singing capacity as the music is 100% instrumental. And quite a talent he is too, his drumming is really excellent, although he is no slouch on the other instruments he plays.
It is no real surprise that he is also responsible for the writing and producing of the album. Brother Gino is not quite the multi-instrumentalist, as his contributions are the tasty lead guitar lines that are spread across the four tracks of this the band's second release, a follow-up to the 2015 album Absorbed By The Forest. The duo have also released four albums under the name Montoya, whilst Sergio has three solo albums and a couple of soundtracks to his name.
The music is quite old school prog in many ways, that draws its influences from the early seventies and the likes of Camel (particularly on Death Of A Completist) or the Canterbury sounds of such luminaries as Hatfield And The North (such as on the excellent The Escape). Plenty of analogue synths and, as previously mentioned, Gino's lead guitar lines are tastefully constructed and blend in perfectly with the soundscapes his brother produces.
What astonishes me is that despite the lengthy playing times of each piece, the album seems to fly by. Maybe it is the somewhat unusual experience these days, for me at least, of having to turn the vinyl album over after 20 minutes or so.
Even though there are only four tracks, there is plenty on offer and all of the tracks are mercifully free of extraneous inclusions; each bar of music is justified and key to the composition. This makes the listening a joy, and the variety within each piece keeps the interest high. The switching between electric and acoustic sections on Err, and elsewhere, is quite masterful.
As a lover of instrumental music, this album certainly hits the right notes and is well worth checking out if you like your prog replete with melodies and free of bombast.
And for those of you whose deck has been confined to the attic or, horror of horrors, been donated for recycling, then fear not as downloads are also available!
Intergalactic Huso Orchestra - Spaced Out
Intergalactic Hugo Orchestra are drummer Jimbo Makelainen and muti instrumentalist Jari Riitala. Hailing from Finland, they have produced a fusion of jazz, prog and rock. They are joined by a number of guests providing additional guitars, along with percussion, trombone and flute. The final product is the cumulation of ten years of sporadic work. Jari shoulders the blame for the length taken, because, in his words, “the vision was already there”, but “they were too lazy” to search for other musicians. So, this is a labour of love, something that becomes obvious once you begin to listen to Spaced Out.
Before we go any further, it's time for a confession. I am far from an expert on the technicalities of jazz, having for many years shied away from the genre, due to a perception of elitism attached to the music. My dabbling has only really taken me to sample the likes of Weather Report, Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny, and, due to my wife listening to her, Mildred Bailey. I have never fully appreciated pure jazz, much preferring fusion, so my review here is based purely from the perspective of a very casual listener, certainly not a connoisseur of the musical form.
Having taken ten years to complete, Spaced Out could have resulted in a purist-only end product, but to my ears, this is far from the truth. Both Jimbo and Jari obviously have a wicked sense of humour, which demonstrates itself both in the musical compositions, as well as the song titles. Odour In Court and Old Rabbits Die Hard being prime examples of their ability to keep tongues pressed firmly against their cheeks.
Sometimes, when the majority of instruments are played by one individual, the result can tend to sound sterile and passionless. Here, each track has its own identity. The feared sameness is never apparent. The band admit that they learned much during the ten years spent completing the recordings, and it is obvious they learnt a lot along the way, as the finished article is a credit to them.
There is a lot of variety on offer to the listener. Some songs set out to deliver quirkiness, some are almost pure jazz workouts, while others have more than a hint of classic rock bands such as Deep Purple. Time For A Change could easily be the soundtrack to a 90s American cop show such as Kojak. Having said that, Nebula Rosa I claims to have references to retro TV shows hidden within. Maybe I didn't watch the same shows but I can't spot any in this track, but there is one section in Afternoon Romp that I know, but frustratingly just can't put my finger on identifying.
The packaging is a great accompaniment to the music, with insightful notes guiding the listener along the journey. The images used are also stunning, adding to the physical package.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience listening to Spaced Out. It was a refreshing experience, with the passion and humour of the two guys on display for all who are prepared to dabble in what the Intergalactic Huso Orchestra have created. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys instrumental music based on jazz, but heavy on the fusion element. It is certainly a disc I will return to.
The Kentish Spires - Sprezzatura
White Knight Records' new signees, The Kentish Spires are back, a mere twelve months on from their impressive debut, with a second album full of purpose and refreshing accessibility.
Hailed as one of the best unsigned acts by Prog magazine in 2018, the 'Spires have quickly returned with Sprezzatura; a release that makes them a growing force to be reckoned with.
Their sophomore effort is an easy pleasure and demonstrates a growing confidence in their signature rock/Canterbury sound that is evident in their tightly arranged material, assembled in just 40 days.
Almost everything about the new album clicks, due to the mixture of fluid, jazzy brass, ethereal synths and catchy, mountainous vocals. Singer Lucie Vox (Lucie V) is a powerhouse of rousing, rock vocals, which she balances neatly with some folky, almost Tull-like charms in the slightly tongue-in-cheek, Sea Shanty. Vocally, Vox has an almost disconcerting ability to move between a seductive siren, full of passion and capable of melting your heart as heard in Wishing Well, to a vitriolic, savage Morissette, ready to incinerate your prized prog rock albums. There is no crying into the Häagen-Dazs within the cheated anger of You Better Shut Your Mouth.
It's these two themes in the Tale Of Three Lovers trilogy that really shows a band that is able to avoid any potential cul-de-sac of twee, noodling folk. Instead, there is the emotionally weighty final third, Never Tell On You, which portrays a silent, remorseful victim in an abusive relationship. Uncomfortable in both its content and its ear-worm melody, there is an uncharacteristic prowess and boldness for the genre here.
There are some casual parallels to contemporaries such as The Tangent and Caravan. The Overture opener gives us hints of this, in the interplay between the precise jazz from talented new member, Chris Egans, and the rhythmic guitar/keyboards of Danny Chang and Rik Loveridge.
Elsewhere the legendary Anglo-Saxon Kentish founders, Horsa and Hengist make a logical appearance in Horsa From Beyond the Grave, which draws on early Genesis tones, without painting the comparisons blatantly. Epic and full of confidence, the yearning, emotional Vox ascends powerfully against a backdrop of rich, melodic excellence. It is the standard that should ensure the band attract a bigger crowd.
Tempering the intensity at the end of the second half of the album, is the soulful, sometimes minimal, The Long Goodbye. Egan's gorgeous sax tour-de-force midway through this song, ensures the track demands repeated plays; optimally appreciated whilst horizontal on the sofa. It's music to close your eyes and sink into.
This is a wholly rewarding experience, which is both succinctly charming and compelling. Paced beautifully, it begins and ends at both points of the bands' soundscape and is never flabby or overwrought. As the definition of the album title suggests, The Kentish Spires have a knack for making it seem effortless, with their well-crafted song-writing and spirited, talented performances to match. This is one band to watch.